Not That Cookie, The Other Cookie!

Happy Accidents:

A kid left a cup of juice out on the porch one frigid night.  The next morning, the juice had frozen solid.

The kid (not my Kid) had just invented popsicles!

Dr. Alexander Fleming mishandled one of his Petri dishes and gets a fungal growth in it.  Before tossing it, he notices the fungus has halted the growth of the staphylococcus bacteria in the dish. 

The name of that fungus?  Penicillin!

In 1947 two Bedouin shepherds in Qumran chased a wayward goat into a cave overlooking the Dead Sea.  Inside was a cache of ancient clay pots filled with blackened parchment.

Those shepherds had just discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls!

I decide to rework the dog biscuits I make Crowley into a pumpkin/peanut butter spice cookies for humans.  I planned to take them to a cookie swap at my local library.

The result?  A horrific disaster!

I racked my brain for something that would be quick, and for which I had all the ingredients.  I always have the components for meringues and had chips leftover from a batch of brownies. 

Chocolate Chip Meringues

4 large egg whites

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ of 10 oz bag of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

*The most important thing about meringues is to get them and keep them crispy.  When you take them out of the oven, they won’t be totally set.  Once they’re cooled completely, they should be totally crispy throughout.

If you cook these on a really humid or rainy day, they will likely never completely dry out.

You can also omit or change the chips, flavor with a different extract, or add cocoa or espresso powder while mixing.

For Thanksgiving, flavor with cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, or Chinese 5-spice powder, and paint the pastry bag with gel food coloring stripes of fall colors, then when piped, they’ll be colorful and festive.

For Christmas, try peppermint extract and paint the pastry bag red & green.

Preheat oven to 225, and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Place egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat on medium until they lighten in color and just begin to increase in size.  Slowly add cream of tartar.

When they turn white, slowly add the sugar a tablespoon at a time.  Turn off mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

When all the sugar has been added, slowly add salt, then vanilla.  Beat until glossy, stiff peaks form.  Very gently, fold in the chocolate chips.

Use a large pastry tip and a zip-top bag (or, if you don’t have a pastry tip, just cut about 1/2 inch off one corner of bag). Fill bag with half the meringue and pipe out onto parchment paper into circles of about 2 inches wide.

Place oven racks close to center and put one cookie sheet on each rack.  Bake for 30 minutes then rotate sheets to the other rack and spin 180 degrees.  Bake 30 minutes more.  Turn off oven and let meringues sit in oven for one hour.  Place parchment with meringues onto cooling rack for 10-15 minutes or until completely cool and crispy throughout.

Store in airtight container.  Silica gel barrels, like from pill bottles will help keep moisture from making the cookies lose their crispiness.

Makes approxamately 36 cookies.

The happy accident part?  Turns out, my favorite librarian and host of the cookie swap had just been diagnosed with celiac disease.  Even if the pumpkin/peanut butter cookies hadn’t been an abomination, she couldn’t have eaten them—she can’t eat gluten anymore.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Frothy and White

It’s much maligned, but sugar can be deceptively beneficial.

Before you even bring the sack into the kitchen, sugar can do some impressive things:

Drinking sugar water before vaccinations can help babies better handle the pain of the shot.Sugar sprinkled over wounds kills infectious microbes and speeds healing.

Did you dig in to that pizza too quickly?  Sucking on a sugar cube can relieve the pain of a burned tongue.

As a scrub, it’s miles better than anything you can pick up at Sephora.  Mix with a little olive oil into a loose paste and it can exfoliate lips, smooth rough elbows, and knees, and even get paint and grease off hands.And sugar, almost all by itself can make lots of dreamy dishes.

Caramel.  At its most basic, it’s nothing more than straight cooked sugar.

Add butter, cream and manipulate cooking procedure and you produce everything from pralines, to vanilla fudge, to dulce de leche. Hard candy, or what the Brits call “boiled sweets” are just cooked sugar with a little color and flavor.  Taffy is cooked sugar pulled, stretched and aerated.  Cotton candy is sugar, melted and spun into gossamer strands.

Last week I spoke about another face sugar can present to the world—the marshmallow.  But the rubbery aspect of its personality is off-putting to me and lots of others.  I also mentioned that I’ve discovered how to get the delicate flavor and soft fluffiness without the creepy elasticity.The first way is through the divine meringue.  Not the topping for lemon pie, although they both begin life the same way; egg whites beaten into foam with sugar slowly added.  For the candy meringues, you pipe out individual portions and then bake them so low and slowly they dry out and pick up no browning.  Think of them as giant, irresistible Lucky Charm marshmallows.The recipe is easy.  But preparation is more often than not, a heartbreaker.  If it’s humid, they’ll never completely dry out.  If they’re not all consistent sizes, some may brown, while others may stay soft in the middle.  They literally attract and retain moisture from the air, so must be stored with extreme care.

I normally get a 25% success rate.

Yeah, a serving is considerably less than the entire tub…

So, I seldom make them anymore.  They can be bought at grocery stores, pre-made and packaged in air-tight tubs.  They’re inexpensive, and usually get me into loads of trouble.  Despite vows of moderation when purchasing, many tubs have been devoured within 12 shameful hours of acquiring.

So, I try not to do that anymore, either.

The actual case o’ meringues

Now, I purchase handmade meringues from this amazing bakery, La Castellana (It means the lady from Castile), on highway 98 in Durham.  They have an entire case of them the exact size and shape of a Big Mac and in all the colors of the pastel rainbow.  I’m a purist and always go vanilla, but each color denotes a flavor, like lemon, strawberry, and blueberry.

The price of these sugary behemoths?One paltry dollar.  And the place is so full of other scratch-made delights you’ll find loads of other treats on which to spend the rest of your dollars—so be careful.


A chocolate rice crispy cupcake with my marshmallow frosting.

Next week I’ll talk about another avenue to get your marshmallow on without that weird texture thing.  It’s marshmallow frosting.  Fat-free, less sweet than buttercream, and delicious on a multitude of vehicles, including beaters, spatula, and fingers.  Despite the showy appearance, it’s easy to make at home.  And, I’ll tell you how.I’m always a little skeptical about those sweeping “metaphor for life” pronouncements.

But consider if you will, the cooking of sugar; it’s messy, dangerous, time-consuming and at times boring.  But the payoff, which can come in infinite varieties, is so, so sweet.Thanks for your time.

What crazy thing have you done?

It’s been a while since I gave you a recipe, Gentle Reader.  This week I have a doozy for you.I know from bad neighbors.

One of our neighbors is…challenging.  Three people live in the home, and they each have three to five cars which they invariably park on the street around our house.  They also own a giant RV which we refer to as Bruce Springsteen’s tour bus.  That one used to be parked right in front of our house, leaving us virtually blind to the street and the world beyond.  It was like living behind Checkpoint Charlie.

Another neighbor moved in as a newlywed.  They had three pit bulls that spent most of the time in the backyard.  They barked protectively at anything that moved or was alive.  After they’d lived there a few years, the husband was arrested.  Turns out he was the regional manager of a murderous drug cartel.  Last we saw of him, he was bound for the federal pen.Because we’ve had not-so-hot neighbors, we have no trouble figuring out who the good ones are.  And we appreciate those good ones so very much.

Fabian and Lana have lived behind us for more than ten years.  They’re flat out awesome and our favorite neighbors—ever.  They frequently act as Guinea pigs for my kitchen experiments, and kindly help me out when I’ve made way too many desserts by taking them off my hands.  One of Fabian’s favorite treats are my vanilla meringues; little cookies made from whipped egg whites and sugar.

This movie is what did it.  I’ve spoken to a ton of folks who have gone vegan because of it.  Truthfully, I’m afraid to watch it.

Fabian’s a recent convert to veganism and a professional rapper.  He currently is on a tour in Europe.  I wanted to make him some treats for the trip.  Meringues would have been prefect, but egg whites are off limit now.

I googled “vegan egg whites” expecting the entire internet to laugh at me as one.  Instead, I got a result that sounded like a joke.  The egg substitute was something that I’ve always discarded, and you, Gentle Reader have probably dumped as well.

It was the liquid from a can of chickpeas.I know, crazy right?  But it actually works.  It whips right up to stiff peaks, doesn’t taste anything like beans, and bakes up into crispy little morsels that look almost exactly like the real thing.  There’s a not unpleasant citrus-like sour component that the traditional confection lacks, but that was the only noticeable difference.

The recipe I used comes from Food Network, but I upped the salt, and added vanilla paste.

Vegan meringuesvegan meringues

One 15-ounce can chickpeas

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Kosher salt

¾ cup superfine sugar (I just put regular sugar into food processor and ground it fine)

2 teaspoons vanilla paste

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

Strain chickpeas directly into bowl of a stand mixer. Reserve chickpeas for another use. Add cream of tartar and pinch of salt to liquid, and beat on medium-high speed until very foamy. While still beating, add vanilla paste, then sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Continue to beat until mixture forms stiff and glossy peaks, about 4 minutes.

Transfer mixture to large pastry bag fitted with large star or round tip.  Pipe 2-inch mounds about 2 inches apart onto prepared baking sheets. Bake until meringues are set and no longer glossy, about 2 hours, rotating the trays (from top to bottom) halfway through. Turn oven off, and let meringues sit in closed oven until they’ve dried out inside, about 1 hour more.

Did Fabian like them?vegan meringuesWell, in the 2 minutes I was there to deliver them, he ate seven.

Thanks for your time.

You Can Be My Lucky Charm

How do you prefer your banana pudding?

Whipped cream?

Or meringue?

When I was pregnant with The Kid, we went up to New Jersey for what turned out to be a surprise baby shower.  The festivities were a bacchanal of Jersey-Italian party food.  Meatball and sausage sandwiches, enough potato and macaroni salad to fill a box car, and cake adorned my aunt’s groaning dining room table.

That cake.

Evidently, whipped cream is a desired cake topping for some benighted folk up there.  But I am a member of team buttercream.  Frosting’s one of my favorite foods.  Unfortunately, whipped cream was ordered.

Because my pregnancy hormones had already caused me to cry once that day, I used every ounce of my gestationally-frayed self-control and refrained from sobbing in disappointment.  But I ate no cake at my own baby shower.

You know what, though?  I think I’m good on the whole whipped cream thing.  I mean, considering this possible alternative.  My whipped cream cake  was just white with plastic babies on it–not in it.

But on banana pudding, I choose whipped cream.  Because I really dislike meringue.

Until last week.

I get weekly emails from McCormick Spice Company.  The latest one had a recipe for meringue cookies.  I studied it.

On this recipe, and every other I’ve ever seen, there are dire warnings to never attempt making meringue on rainy or humid days.  It was pouring out, but I had a theory.

My theory was that modern homes are built so air-tight that they cut down humidity to negligible levels.  As a purely scientific experiment (certainly not to eat), I’d create meringues.

Starting with the recipe they supplied, I changed it up a bit, and went to work.

Classic Vanilla Meringues

meringues supplies

4 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 225, and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Place egg whites into bowl of stand mixer.  Beat on medium until they lighten in color and begin to increase in size.  Slowly add cream of tartar.

When they turn white, slowly add sugar a tablespoon at a time.  When added scrape down sides of bowl.

Turn mixer back on. Running on high, slowly add salt, then vanilla.  Beat until glossy, and stiff peaks form.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUse large pastry tip fitted on zip-top bag (or, if you don’t have a pastry tip, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner of bag). Fill with meringue and pipe onto parchment paper into circles of 2 inches wide.

Place both oven racks close to center and put one cookie sheet on each rack.  Bake for 30 minutes then rotate sheets.  Bake for 30minutes more.  Turn off oven and let meringues sit in oven for one hour. 

Because they’ll absorb moisture from the air and get soft, store them in airtight container.  You can re-crisp them in a 225 oven for 15-20 minutes, but they’ll never be as perfect as when fresh.

Makes 30 cookies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey take flavor easily, so play with extracts.  Mocha, for instance; add 2 tablespoons of cocoa with the sugar, use coffee instead of vanilla. 

So, my theory proved correct.  They turned out crispy, and to my huge surprise, crazy yummy.

They’re also only 26 calories apiece and both gluten and fat-free.

The best part is these addictive little treats are very much like marshmallows in Lucky Charms.  My whole life I’ve wished for a box that somehow slipped through quality control, and held no cereal, but was filled solely with marshmallows.

It does exist.  If this is true, who knows what else is real?  Maybe Pauly Shore is funny, and Kanye is talented.

Now when I get that feeling, I can, in twenty minutes, turn out a pan of homemade ones the size of hockey pucks.

It’s good to be alive.

Thanks for your time.